Business owner: 'Downtown area is getting ready to explode'Comments 28
December 11, 2010 5:44 PM
FORT WALTON BEACH — The downtown Fort Walton Beach business district is going through a transitional period.
Two long established businesses that called downtown home for years, Coach and Four gift shop and Ruth Bailey’s and Son Antiques, have closed or are doing so. Some newer businesses took a chance on downtown and failed, such as the recently closed Little Bo Feet and Kreative Artizans.
While some businesses continue to struggle, others have been surprised by the amount of success they’ve attained so quickly.
“We have had some stores close downtown, but the stores that have closed to me are a great opportunity for us to get some newer, more energetic companies downtown, because for the most part it is full,” said Bobby Nabors, owner of Liquid Surf & Sail.
“There’s really not space available and the businesses that have been coming in are doing well. Fluid has come in across the street the past two years; the running store is doing fantastic just down the street.”
Navarre resident Jeff Harris used to run downtown and pass a vacant storefront that he thought would be the perfect location for his running specialty store, Run With It. In February, Harris moved the store from its original Navarre location to the vacant storefront and the popularity of the store even caught him by surprise.
Harris believes future businesses that come to downtown will have similar success.
“I think the downtown area is getting ready to explode,” Harris said. “I know we’re going through a transition period right now and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It happens in every town, every city. Areas get popular, areas kind of go out and you get this constant flux. I see the stores that are moving in now — if you will, the new guard — and I just think this is going to be a great area.”
Other businesses continue to struggle.
One Feather American Indian Art is the very definition of a niche store. Owners David and Anna Baxter offers masks, pottery, clothing, jewelry and other items handmade from more than 40 Native American tribes across the United States and Canada.
One Feather has been in business for about 15 years. Sales are down at the store, but David Baxter said that was due more to the BP oil spill this summer than a lack of interest in downtown businesses.
“Business has been slow,” David Baxter said. “Everybody is still hitting just the Walmarts and the malls. They’re not hitting the specialty stores. There still doesn’t seem to be a ton of the tourists here.
“We depend on the tourist so much,” he added. “Throughout the summer, we were anywhere from 40 to 50 to 60 percent off.”
Even with a down year, Baxter said he was confident that traffic downtown would pick back up.
“We’re just keeping the faith and hanging in there,” he said.
Fokker’s Sports Pub has been in business downtown for about four years. Although sales had been down because of the econ-omy and the oil spill, owner Bill Avery said his business is in an upswing.
This time last year, Avery said he had nearly 100 percent cancellation with his holiday parties. This season, people are going through with bookings.
“Things are looking up. We’re expecting a great summer as long as nothing blows up or fails up,” Avery said. “I’ve very encouraged by the current trend.
“I do see the trend toward the better for our little town,” Avery said.
Avery said downtown is a challenging place to own a business. There’s limited parking and it’s not easy getting shoppers to stop on U.S. Highway 98. He said the new business owners downtown seem to be willing to work the long hours needed to succeed.
“A lot of these businesses are failing,” Avery said. “The econ-omy is rough and it’s just bad timing for them. The other reason is they’re not willing to put into owning a business what it takes to own a business. If you want a 9 to 5 job, go to work for somebody.
“So many people start their own business and dictate their own hours. I don’t dictate my hours. My customers dictate my hours. If I dictated my own hours I would be open a half hour a day because I love my leisure time.”
Harris said one of the reasons he has been so successful with Run With It downtown is marketing — something other downtown businesses should do more of.
“You’ve got to market your-self,” Harris said. “You’ve got to keep your name out there. I think so many people, not just here but everywhere, they get so caught up (with the cost of advertising). Even Coke and Pepsi advertise and those are huge, billion-dollar companies and they’ve got to advertise. Our whole life is marketing. We sponsor every race, any kind of health fair we do.”
Even business owners who are closing up and leaving downtown still have faith that the future is bright for the right businesses.
“That’s one thing about downtown. I’ve watched it go where people are saying it’s dying,” said Richard Bailey, owner of Ruth Bailey’s and Son Antiques, which closed its doors a few months ago and is selling off inventory at an auction this weekend. “Well I’ve been down here forever. There’s been the Texas oil money that’s dried up. The Louisiana oil money dried up. That’s just the way the economy goes. You have to have something interesting to sell.
“This area right here on a highway is the perfect location because people are driving by and they will stop,” Bailey added. “People complain about parking and this and that, the bums — that’s everywhere. If somebody wants something, they’re going to (go get it).”